Parham appoints committee to review report on special education program Independent audit finds money being wasted

December 02, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

A committee of parents, teachers and administrators is to review an independent audit that found Anne Arundel County educators are wasting money by putting students who are struggling readers into costly special education programs for mentally disabled and autistic children.

The panel was appointed by Carol S. Parham, superintendent of the 74,275-student county school system, who announced the appointment of the 27-member committee last night.

Parham asked the committee to report to her by March 1 with recommendations and cost estimates for revamping the special education program.

"This committee is to get a time line for things that need to be done, the budget implications," Parham said. "So when we come with budget requests, we have the recommendations from the audit to justify why we need, say, 17 new reading teachers. This is not about saving money, it's about improving services for students."

In a report released a month ago, auditors from Peat Marwick of Washington found that the county's special education budget had increased by 28 percent since 1993. In that time, the number of children placed in special education has increased 27 percent while the student population has risen 5 percent.

The effect of a bloated special education program -- it accounts for $50 million of the $454 million school budget this year -- can be felt throughout the school system, auditors said.

The eight-member school board meet with the auditors last night to go over the audit and answer questions.

Because federal law requires school systems to provide special education for any child who qualifies, administrators often send a student to private schools or to schools outside his community at a cost of thousands of dollars.

Some crowded schools have no room for special education classes. And the emphasis on special education means that the system overlooks about 20 percent of the county's 74,275 students who are neither gifted nor eager learners but don't qualify for special education, auditors said.

Other school districts share Anne Arundel's problem, the auditors said, in that more and more children who don't catch on as quickly as their peers get labeled as disabled. Twenty years ago, experts say, parents were reluctant to admit that their failing children needed help. Now parents look to the schools to solve their children's learning problems and don't worry about stigmas.

In Baltimore, a lawsuit brought against the city 14 years ago revealed a history of inattention to children with minor learning problems from teachers to principals to the superintendent.

Anne Arundel officials hope to avoid such legal problems. Parham offered the special education program for an audit under a state law that allows the county and the school board to split the $110,000 cost.

Pub Date: 12/02/98

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